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UNIT 12: Transmission of Traditions

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VIDEO SEGMENT: Confucian Korea

This segment explores the influence of Chinese traditions in the Korean peninsula after the fourth century CE. Although Chinese influence in Korea dates as far back as the second century BCE, it was the introduction of Buddhism in the fourth century CE that had the most transformative effects on Korean society.

By the seventh century, Buddhism was widely accepted in Korea. But Buddhism brought more than just a new religious philosophy — it also brought Chinese written language, literature, political ideas, and Confucian philosophy. Confucian philosophy provided a moral basis on which the Koryo and Chosun dynasties could rule, and established a class of scholars who needed to master many texts in order to be eligible for government service. This demand for texts — as well as the desire to spread Buddhism — created a related demand for technologies such as printing, also borrowed from China.

By the thirteenth century, Koreans developed the first metal movable type, 200 years before the first Gutenberg Bible was printed using similar technologies. However, communication in Korean was difficult using borrowed Chinese characters. The desire to distribute the virtues of borrowed traditions like Buddhism in the native Korean language, then, resulted in the creation of a phonetic Korean alphabet, called Han'gul, in the fifteenth century. Han'gul, in turn, aided the transmission of traditions to many Koreans beyond the elite literary class who were able to learn Chinese characters.

SELECTED IMAGES AND MAPS


Anonymous, BUDDHA STATUE IN POPCHUSCA, KOREA (n.d.). Copyright 2003 Oregon Public Broadcasting and its licensors. All rights reserved.

Anonymous Korean. CONFUCIUS (ca 1800-1900). Courtesy of The British Library.


Anonymous Korean, ROYAL TOMB OF KING SEJONG, KOREA [ca. 1397-1450] (1978). Courtesy of Korea National Tourism Organization.

Anonymous, KOREAN BUDDHIST SCRIPTURE [TRIPITAKA] (ca. 1900-2000). Anonymous Korean. Courtesy of The British Library.



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